A New Year of Contemplation

Pastor Terry Tatum

Each year around this time I tend to reflect on the past year, or years. I think about what was, what is, and what could have been. Without any prompting my mind just goes in that direction.

Reflecting on 2020 has been different to say the least.

I really love to hear the scriptures read regarding the birth of Christ, the wise men, the shepherds, the virgin birth, and that there was no room for them at the inn. It causes me to truly contemplate where I am and where I’m going.

This week during our church-wide Advent study we are looking at the idea of contemplation, and making this Christian New Year a year of contemplation.

Most of you have heard the parts of the story of Jesus’ birth that I just mentioned, but did you know that many aspects of His life were foretold 700 years before He was born? The prophet Isaiah told of a future prophet named John who would “prepare the way for the Lord.” This prophecy is mentioned many times in the New Testament, including in Luke’s gospel:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar — when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene — during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’” Luke 3:1-6 NIV

Sometimes it’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that all the things in my Bible really happened. I know Jesus came, I know He lived among us, I know He died for us, and I know He ascended into Heaven and is at the right hand of God right now.

But am I so sure that I would turn everything in my life over to Him like John the Baptist did? John the Baptist didn’t just tell people about Jesus’s coming, he lived like He was coming. “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” His life was changed by the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Has yours been?

In The Christian New Year devotional, J.D. Walt uses the image of “fallowed land” to help explain the state many of us find ourselves in this time of year.

Fallowed Land is the “usually cultivated land that is allowed to lie idle during the growing season.”

Sometimes we just go through the motions and “sleep walk” through life. But let me assure you: If you don’t prepare and use the gifts and abilities God has given you and if you don’t continually try to cultivate a relationship with God, you are very much in danger of meeting the same fate fallowed ground meets, a condition known as hardpan.

Hardpan is the term used to describe what happens when soil lays dormant for a long period of time and becomes useless for producing anything.  Or as J.D. Walt says, a hardpan is “the condition of people who have lost touch with their inner life.”

The good news is there’s hope. A savior is on the way. He’s been here before, and he’s coming back. How do we prepare for his return?

We take some time to contemplate where we are, where we’re headed, and what we need to do. Today I’d like to tell you about three things you can do to help you contemplate your life and your relationship with God. 

1) Reflect (on the noise in your life) [From The Christian New Year, pages 31-32]

If you are going through the daily Advent devotions with us, you read last week about the “Quiet Game.” The statement was made that a “room can be completely silent yet still devoid of quiet,” and “the real noise” (in our lives) comes from us.

Let me use an example from scripture to explain this a little better. In Luke 1 we read about Zechariah and Elizabeth who were both too old to have children.  One day the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” (Luke 1:13 NIV) Of course this is hard for Zechariah to believe, let alone understand. Because of his unbelief the Angel Gabriel says, “You will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” (Luke 1:20 NIV)

It’s written here as though this were a punishment, but can you imagine what your life would be like if you couldn’t speak? Imagine if you were to “play the quiet game” like Zechariah.

Sure, it would be very difficult to communicate but how much less trouble would we get in if we couldn’t say what we really thought? How much simpler would it be if all that drama was gone? Imagine the clarity we would have when we talked with God. How much more would we praise Him in our hearts?

Then imagine that after almost a year our speech came back. That’s exactly what happened to Zechariah. The last time he had spoken his words expressed disbelief, but when his speech returned he proclaimed God’s greatness and promises kept in 13 verses known as Zechariah’s Song.

I’d like to encourage you to play “the quiet game” this week. See how long you can go without speaking (time it) – if you can. J.D. Walt calls it “fasting from our words in order to recover their power and meaning.”

As you reflect on where you are in your walk Christ, I’d like to challenge you to be quiet! Get all the self-imposed noise out of your life and recover the “power and meaning” of your words. Then as you reflect maybe it will be quiet so you and God can talk. 

The second way I’d suggest helping you contemplate your relationship with Christ is to …

2) Repent (It’s a good word!) [page 39]

I’ve pointed out many times that repentance is way more than just saying you are sorry. Repentance is turning the opposite direction from the wrong action you are taking.

Do you remember earlier when we read that John was preaching a baptism of repentance? “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Repentance also means re-orienting your life with what matters most. It’s not just about stopping something; it’s about running toward the right thing. Repentance is a word a lot like discipline in the fact that it is often used in a negative manner. But in reality repentance is a good word. It not only takes you away from a bad thing, it leads you to a good thing.  

Once we get all the noise out of our lives and truly talk with God we become convicted in our hearts of the things we have done wrong. Some things seem unforgivable. They seem so bad that you would never want anyone else to know about them, let alone to talk to them about those wrong things. 

But remember, we’ve gotten the noise out of our lives, we have been able to reflect on where we are, and we are now able to focus and talk with God. You can tell Him whatever you want to tell him. You can tell Him the stuff that you’ve pushed way down there, not wanting anyone else to ever know about.

He already knows, and he still loves you, so much so that He sent His Son to be born, live among us, teach us, and die for us … More specifically, to die for you!

Today, I want to ask you to consider talking to God, reflecting on where you are in your walk with Him, and repenting of the things you need to turn away from. Turn to Him. Remember, repent is a good word! J

Now that we have taken time to reflect and get the noise turned down in our lives, and we have talked to the Lord and been led to repent of our sins and turn to him, we are now ready for the third and final area of contemplation in your relationship with God:

3) Realign (your assumptions and expectations) [pages 44-45]

Picture this, John is in prison and he has no way of knowing what is going on out in the world. This is where we find ourselves in Matthew 11: 

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11:2-6 NIV)

Don’t forget, John is special. Zechariah knew it and John had to have known it, too. He went around proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was near. He lived his life for Jesus, even before Jesus’ ministry began. He lived his life right and yet, he ended up in jail. So he sends a message to Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Imagine if John had said it this way, “Hey Jesus, look I’ve done about all I can do and I’m in jail. This just isn’t working out for me. I’m going to go try something else.” John was assuming Jesus would handle things in a certain way. He, like many others, probably envisioned a mighty warrior King who took over everything. But that’s not who Jesus is.

Remember what Jesus was doing? He was healing the blind, the lame, the people with leprosy, the deaf, and bringing the good news to the poor.

I don’t know about you, but what Jesus was doing sounds pretty awesome. Sounds like John just had some faulty assumptions which turned into expectations of who Jesus should be and when those expectations weren’t met, John began to question who Jesus was.

Sounds crazy right? What if I told you that every one of us is guilty of the same thing? Maybe not with Jesus but with others.

We think and even believe a person should and will do a certain thing and then they don’t. Our expectations aren’t met.

This is where a lot of tension in relationships comes from. As our Advent devotional puts it, “expectations are the seeds of future bitterness.”

Think how easy this could happen … you marry the love of your life and things are great. You are so thankful for how God has blessed you. As time passes on you both begin to change. Your spouse doesn’t do what you expect them to do and it leads to a divorce. The divorce rocks you to the core of who you are and all kinds of troubles follow. Because of the divorce you have a terrible time financially, so difficult that you turn to other things to help you forget your troubles. You begin drinking too much or taking drugs and an addiction forms. A life of chaos ensues. You begin to say things like “Why me God? I tried to do what was right, how did I end up here?”

Our issue is that we want God and his blessings on our terms or not at all. We think the people in our lives should do what we think they should do. Life should turn out how we want it to. But it doesn’t work like that. Our expectations of others and our expectations of God are unrealistic.

If you truly want to contemplate your life and where you are in your walk with God, you must realign your assumptions and expectations. Remember when Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see,” and then told of all the great things happening? What more could John expect from Jesus?

Now look at your life. You may not think it, but people love you. You belong to a church family full of people who love you just the way you are – no assumptions, no expectations. The life God has given you is a good life.

I’m not saying bad things won’t happen to you. I’m not saying you won’t do bad things. What I am saying is sometimes those bad things wake us up to the beauty that’s around us, allowing us to see things from a grace-filled perspective. Maybe we will now be able to forgive others because God forgave us.

I believe this is the perfect time to realign our expectations for God, and for others.

As you continue on this Advent journey and you contemplate where you are with your relationship with Christ and where you need to be, remember to reflect, repent, and realign your life.